He took one deep inhale and went under, the outline of his body wiggling under the rippled surface of the water as he swam the entire length of the pool. From my vantage point in the shade, eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, body coated with layers of sunscreen and expression covered by a thick hardcover book, I saw his hair break the surface first, then his tanned torso, his new swimming shorts. He stood at the lip of concrete across the deck from me, his long fingers moving over his face to move water from his eyes. I couldn't help but smile to myself, watching him navigate the warm water, back to his family. He's incredible. I can't believe how lucky I am that he loves me. He's mine.
There are moments, in every relationship, when a girl looks at her other half and is overcome by gratitude and pride. I have those moments often; when he's sleeping beside me, and I've not yet fallen into sleep, when he does something warm and thoughtful for someone he loves, when he sings, loud and passionately, in the car next to me. It doesn't take much to make me glad we found each other, to make me grateful for whatever brought us together and kept us that way. There's just something there that keeps me happy, that reminds me, constantly, how lucky I am.
Our first full day in Mexico, Billy's family and I loaded ourselves into a caravan of vehicles that drove us hours out of where we were staying in Merida and into what we believed was the middle of nowhere. Wearing sneakers purchased on a random street corner in a small Mexican town between our hotel and our destination, we headed out to acres and acres of land used to train bull fighters.
We were told that we'd all have an opportunity to stand in the down-scaled arena and wave red capes at large bulls. The boys in the group regressed to twelve year olds, excited at the notion of bull fighting, where the women begrudgingly tied on their tennis shoes, crossed their arms, and maintained that, though we would watch, there would be no place in the arena for us.
We pulled up to the gate that led to the property, our vans rolling over two thin tire lines of dirt road, and parked just in front of a large tent that had been set up for shade. We exited the lush air conditioned seats of our rides and slid out into the heat. We sprayed ourselves with bug repellent to deter the large insects that clung to our vehicles on our drive in, we applied sunblock to the appropriate places, and headed for shade. A band of four men began playing, the thump of their one drum and the smooth shriek of their horns carrying us into the day. I held Billy's hand and smiled, feeling the music in my chest, and knowing I was seeing something I'd never, ever see if not for him.
We were herded to the arena, where we took our seats on an elevated platform over the dusty floor on which the matadors train. The band squeezed in behind our large group and played to us while we took our beers and then our seats and prepared to watch. Spanish words buzzed around me like flies, bouncing off of the trees and the watery green grass of the surrounding fields. Off in the distance, large bulls, deep black and imposing, stood in shallow water and watched us, watching them. Giddy with excitement, we buzzed with laughter and chatter, beneath the blare of the music behind us, and the Mexican sun right over our heads.
"Shhh," Billy's uncle said, using his hand to instruct us to lower our volume. "All the noise is scaring the bull."
The sudden quiet of our group allowed us to hear the thick thump of a bull's body, moving behind a weathered wooden gate. Amazed silence ushered the animal into the arena.
She burst into the arena, barreling through the gate and into the large empty space waiting for her. She stopped, mid-run, and looked around getting her bearings. We whispered to one another, some relatives telling others that the bulls we would be seeing were females, not males like we thought. Despite the horns and the moniker of "bull," which we all believed implied "male," the bulls here were the ladies, the ones that breed the hostility necessary in the male fighting bulls. There was no killing here; the bulls we were watching were actually being watched for their temperaments, the angriest, most aggressive ones being the ladies picked to mate with the hulking bulls standing off in the distance. We widened our eyes and nodded our heads, satisfied with learning something new.
The bull, her fat horns leading the way, began to run around, looking for something. From beneath our seating area, a man, wearing jeans, a button down shirt, and a cowboy hat, strode, chest puffed out, into the center of the dirt, calling out to get the bull's attention. She charged him, her body building force and speed each time her heavy hooves whacked the dirt beneath her. He swung the cape, taunting her, lifting it just as she barreled through it. We clapped and cheered, the band churning to start behind us. I looked up at Billy. "Oh my God," I said to him, my face full of sunshine and shock. "This is incredible."
He smiled back at me, his excitement evident even behind his dark glasses. "I know. I'm glad you like it."
We cheered and screamed and "Olè"d our way through two matadors and two bulls. Billy, tall and obvious beside me, continued to boast that he could do it through his smile. The matador below turned and beckoned him down. "Me?" Billy said, pointing at his own chest, then turning to look behind him. In one motion, all twenty or so of us turned our worried and expectant faces toward him. The matador's voice crawled up the concrete to us: "Si."
So Billy kissed me, and went.
Moments later, in his khaki shorts and short sleeved shirt, he strode into the arena with the same barrel-chested posture and confidence of the true matadors before him. From his long arm dangled the bright red cape and, in Spanish, he called from below us to the band behind us and asked for music. They bubbled to a start, all of us clapping in time with the thick sound of the drum as the bull took notice of Billy.
He looked flawless there, his long legs carrying him out into the center of the circle. Though he may have been scared, his features didn't betray him. He was smooth and certain, his long spine straight and full of bravado. Despite the fact that he was feet taller then the men who briefly showed him what to do, despite his inappropriate dress for the arena, he somehow looked like he belonged there. But with Billy, he always looks like he belongs, just as he his.
I clapped until my hands stung for him, screaming my support, but checking my worry and reminding myself that "he'll be fine." I watched him use his effortless Spanish to call the bull over, to let her know he was there, waiting for her. She outweighed him by hundreds of pounds, and he was calling her, taunting her.
The cape moved steadily, rippling behind his sweeping arm perfectly. I cheered for him, through each swift movement of the cape, through each last-second side-stepping of the bull. I laughed nervously, a small sliver of worry still pricking me as he moved. But I was proud; of how good he was, of how brave he was, of his desire to just try, because when in his life would he ever again have the chance to step into an arena with a cape and a bull.
After a handful of successful passes, Billy turned to us, his adoring audience, and took a bow, then exited the same way he went in: Back straight, at full height, filled to the brim with confidence. We applauded him during his exit. And while I clapped and shouted for him, I watched him and thought, God, he's incredible. And he's mine.